Sunday, May 1, 2016

OrthoPets Stifle Brace and the Side Effects of Chemo

This knee brace has been worth it's weight in gold...which is good, because it cost nearly as much. In mid March I took Holly to an orthopedic veterinarian to be measured, casted and ultimately fitted for an OrthoPets stifle brace. The process was interesting...we had to cast her leg in a weight bearing position and take all kinds of measurements so that OrthoPets could create a custom fitting brace for her knee.

Meanwhile...since January, we've been monitoring her blood values every 2-4 weeks because the metronomic chemotherapy drug was causing low WBC counts and pretty much stopped platelet production. Prior to that, from July - December, we were only monitoring every 2 months...but her lowered WBC prompted us to monitor things more closely to prevent harmful side effects of the drug.

When she toasted her knee, she went on rest to allow the knee to heal while we waited for the brace to arrive. With the advent of the brace, she became more active, but I noticed that as I increased her exercise each week, she was becoming tireder easier, a lot more than what she should be for just simply being out of shape. She's at the vet every 2 weeks and is quite possibly one of the most closely monitored dogs my vet has ever known. The tiredness could be a result of chronically low WBC combined with being out of shape and the sudden onset of summer-like heat we were experiencing. So we let it go for a bit and let her dictate her activity. But as she got fitter and the weather got cooler, her tiredness wasn't any better. Last week we decided to check her lungs to be sure that the cancer hadn't snuck past the chemotherapy and invaded her lungs...thankfully it hadn't, her lungs are still clear, but her symptoms fit lung cancer so she really had me worried for awhile.

So why the increased tiredness? We checked her urine and there is a small possibility she is fighting a UTI or bladder infection, but with her low WBC, fighting it is costing her a huge amount of energy. We started her on a broad spectrum antibiotic and made the decision to stop giving her the chemotherapy at the same time. She's been on the chemo for 10 months and it has successfully suppressed the cancer...which the chemo drug wasn't designed to do. Her immune system has taken a hit though and she isn't enjoying life right now, so we're pulling back and keeping our fingers crossed that the cancer won't return quickly.

All this time, we've been doing extra, non-traditional medicine to help support Holly's general health and her immune system...raw foods, bone marrow broth, mushrooms, joint support, anti-inflammatories, acupuncture, chiropractic work on her back, etc.. One thing I very much dislike is all the unsolicited "advice" I get from every random person out there on how to "cure" Holly's cancer with the latest and greatest homeopathic or holistic tincture, herb or oil. Holly already has a team of very well educated people...oncology, traditional, non-traditional, physical therapy and orthopedic, but thank you.

Adding the brace really helped her confidently begin to use her leg again. We were working on PT exercises and she's gained a lot of muscle back and was striding out evenly and pretty comfortably til about 10 days ago. She began to really drag the right rear foot (the good hind leg) and she very quickly wore down her toenails to nubs. My vet and I haven't figured out why, but it appears her iliospoas muscles hurt and she's compensating, causing her right leg to be sore along with her left. I would take her to the PT to have her help us figure it out, but honestly, I'm broke. All of her increased medical expenses in the last 4 months, as well as some of my own, has me with nothing to spare right now. I HATE that money is an obstacle, but I have spent gobs and gobs and gobs of money on her health the last 16 months and it's taken a toll on my bank account. I'll have to muddle through this part via emails, videos and phone calls with the PT instead.

Despite all the above, we have had some fun the last 2 months...Holly learned a new game she can play in the yard...searching for treat filled plastic Easter Eggs hidden in the yard. She loves it.

I allow her to be off leash on our short forest hikes, so she can be the independent dog she truly is. Knees and iliospoas be dammed...her mental health is just as important as her physical health, and being perpetually leashed is a drain on her soul.
Digging for the elusive ground squirrel